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Are Forums the Forgotten Medium?

By: Guest | December 10, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Jessica Malnik.

I’m just going to say it.

Online forums are the forgotten medium.

During the past few years, brands have become enamoured by sexier social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

These channels have a massive reach, and because of that there is a perception everyone is active on them.

Often times, companies get so busy optimizing and creating content for these external social media channels they overlook the tremendous potential of forums.

Forums have been around since the mid-1990s. In their simplest structure, they can act as a bulletin or message board.

They are often overlooked by PR professionals and marketers, which is unfortunate because, in a lot industries, there are more conversations taking place in forums than on Facebook and Twitter.

In fact according to Jason Falls, 90 percent of the conversations about banking and the banking industry take place on forums.

Admittedly, forums can be an intimidating environment. Many marketers are used to just pushing their message out to the most people they can reach. That’s not an ideal strategy for forums, which tend to be smaller and much more conversational.

Below are three ways investing time using forums can enhance your overall PR and marketing strategies.

Ownership and Control

Forums are one of the only truly owned platforms, alongside email marketing, blogs, and company websites.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and the other social networks are great, but you are essentially renting space from them. As a third-party site, they can make changes whenever they want (or even shut down), and there is very little you can do about it. Ask yourself this: What would happen if Facebook were to shut down tomorrow? Do you have other ways to reach your audience? With a forum that is hosted on your own site, you have much more control over the environment.

Community Building

Contrary to what many may think, a fairly large number of people are still uncomfortable sharing a lot of information online. This is especially true for the large banking and medical industries. Not to mention, conversations on Facebook brand pages and on Twitter tend to be much more one-sided.

Many people don’t want to share their personal (or family/friend) health problems or banking questions publicly on Facebook and Twitter, but they are still looking for guidance and/or support. This is where forums really work. The average forum tends to be much smaller and more conversational, which often provides that sense of security and community feel that allows people to be more open.

Take a step back, listen, and contribute to the conversation (instead of trying to “hijack” it). You will learn a tremendous amount just by being a member of your forum’s community.

Fantastic Educational Resource

Forums have always been a great way to disseminate information and resources. This only expands when you get forum participants asking questions, answering other people’s questions, and providing their own tips and tricks. This can become a fantastic marketing tool.

These are just three ways that companies can get value from forums. Depending on your marketing strategies, the possibilities are nearly endless from increasing engagement to answering questions, providing educational resources and creating brand evangelists.

How have you incorporated forums into your overall PR and marketing strategies?

Jessica Malnik is an online community builder, social media specialist, and an avid blogger. Visit her blog for social media, technology, public relations, and marketing ramblings. 

52 comments
LisaSullivan
LisaSullivan

@mattnowak1 good one. Thanks for sharing @jessicamalnik's piece on forums. Really need to mull that one over for our @fmrealty strategy.

krinal
krinal

@MalharBarai @ginidietrich Not at all, they are still the oceans of knowledge - ReLoaded ;)

heitzke
heitzke

@StaceyHood @ginidietrich aftermarket providers live and die by forum followings

heitzke
heitzke

@StaceyHood @ginidietrich - depends on which industry you're speaking to. Forums have been a large part of aftermarket auto marketing

mbeasi
mbeasi

@Yuricon @ginidietrich I hope not, since I just started one!

dbvickery
dbvickery

Interesting topic. Because we are a software solutions provider, our folks are always on their applicable forums (Business Objects, TDWI, Java, .NET, etc). Each of those forums have very engaged communities, and a natural pecking order has been established spanning experts to lurkers. In fact, a few of our folks are in that rarified "expert" category.

 

Because of the level of interaction on these forums, and because we hope the rest of the developer's time is spent actually DEVELOPING after learning new ideas on a forum, I wonder if there is time for an active blog community. I've been considering a corporate blog to cover more of what we do (Pulse is just a small part), but I wonder how many developers would go the RSS feed route and start reading our content...and then contributing to the discussion via comments. They may think that dilutes their attention span from forums.

 

They may take on the attitude "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and we could blog exceptional content to a bunch of crickets.

 

Thoughts?

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

There's really two discussions wrapped into one on this issue.  Do brand launch their own forums in support of products and services or establish a presence on existing forum communities, perhaps even running banner ads on those networks? 

 

As an avid homebrewer, I used to be very active on brewing forums when looking for process and recipe improvements, etc. Small vendors could easily capture business just by being active on the forums, offering discounts to members, etc. 

Latest blog post: Got My Mojo Workin’, Again

BuzzEdition
BuzzEdition

@AmyVernon Hi Amy! Just thought I would say hello! Nice to see you ~hugs~

abdallahalhakim
abdallahalhakim

I think there are places for private and places for public. I don't use forums much but I see the value if discussing banking or personal health issues. However, there are excellent public communities on different blogs that offer tremendous value and advice in many different areas. The conversations are the thread that holds these communities together. I think one should use common sense when sharing personal info.

digibomb
digibomb

@markwschaefer disagree with the privacy thing - depending on the community ppl will share most anything! Oh, & forums r certainly not dead!

tristanbailey
tristanbailey

@TedRubin @ginidietrich not really stackoverflow are forums mark 2 and sites like 4chan/hacker news are sort of deconstructs

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Jessica, I'll second Danny, and you.

 

One of the things I love about forums is that, whether you create it yourself or join an existing forum, you get a conversation not just WITH the community, but amongst it.  You can learn from the people who care the most about a topic exactly what it is they think and feel. 

 

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

@jeffespo @ginidietrich Been talking with a lot of people about that lately. Remind me to comment on the blog post later after my mtg. :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Nice reminder, Jessica - the smart marketers have always used forums as a key part of any research and strategy. Some of the best insights around are on retail forums, for example - and they're only accessed by the very few.

 

Time for marketers to wake up - great starter!

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

@greenmelinda Exactly! Thanks for sharing my guest post! :)

UsefulArts
UsefulArts

@greenmelinda unless there are Great incentives, forums do get forgotten and wither. Alignment is huge.

mswaichingliu81
mswaichingliu81

@opajdara @jessicamalnik I still visit forums but not as much. the main sites I visit are twitter, youtube, pinterest.

MattNowak1
MattNowak1

@LisaSullivan Forums would work very well for real real estate. They would help build trust and showcase experience.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@heitzke You just gave me a really good idea!

Yuricon
Yuricon

@mbeasi @ginidietrich Forums are still alive and well in media fandoms and any interest with an older/geekier audience.

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

 @dbvickery I think it goes back to a little bit of what @jasonkonopinski said. If they are already engaged and uber active on other forums, don't try to reinvent the wheel and create your own forum or blog just because. Often times, it may be better to just be present and engage where your audience is already at. 

Latest blog post: December App Review

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

 @jasonkonopinski That brings up a great point, Jason. Brands don't necessarily have to create their own forum. In many cases, it's better just to be present where your audience is already sharing. However, just be engaging and helpful and not spammy. 

Latest blog post: December App Review

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

@BuzzEdition wow! There's a blast from the past. :) Hey! Nice to see you, too. Hope you're well? :)

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

 @abdallahalhakim It's not necessarily just about sharing in public v. private areas. Forums are by no means always private, but in many cases, since they are smaller and often times more tightknit, they elicit a community feel which encourages people to share more candidly.

Latest blog post: December App Review

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

@AmyVernon @jeffespo Can't wait to hear your thoughts. Thanks for sharing my guest post btw! Cc @ginidietrich

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

 @Danny Brown Exactly, Danny! Also, everyone isn't comfortable sharing publicly on Facebook and Twitter, but many will share in smaller forums. This is especially true for banking and medical industries. 

Latest blog post: December App Review

greenmelinda
greenmelinda

@UsefulArts But any client who's asked us to build them a forum, we push back immediately. It makes no sense for brands.

greenmelinda
greenmelinda

@UsefulArts There are creative ways to market to EXISTING niche forums (auto enthusiasts, frequent flyers, for ex) with a big audience.

LisaSullivan
LisaSullivan

@mattnowak1 I don't disagree. I just need to figure out how to do it and well. I also need to be cloned too. ;)

heitzke
heitzke

@ginidietrich anything you can share? Definitely interested in the topic of forum marketing

dbvickery
dbvickery

 @jessicamalnik  @jasonkonopinski But then you do not have that "centralized" repository of your company's thought leadership - and all the Search goodness that comes with it. If our thought leadership was applied to a corporate blog, and then propagated through social platforms, then we substantially increase our reach.

 

Of course, the daily/weekly engagement may still happen more on the forums where folks are comfortable. But even then - for FAQs on the forums - it would be easy to point people to content on your own site.

BuzzEdition
BuzzEdition

@AmyVernon Busy...but doing well. I miss the digg crew. Those were the days! ;-)

abdallahalhakim
abdallahalhakim

 @jessicamalnik I agree! My favoruite public community, www.avc.com, is made up of around 100 people who regularly comment. I don't think public communities mean that they will be large. The trick is finding the right ingredients to building a community which is a very organic process.

UsefulArts
UsefulArts

@greenmelinda - I love community -- but some think its "free". No gardens grow from neglect. (well, except for mint.) ;>

MattNowak1
MattNowak1

@LisaSullivan What is “offline” anymore? :) But I do understand your general sentiment.

LisaSullivan
LisaSullivan

@mattnowak1 I try real hard 2 stay offline once 6:30/7 hits. I just want 2 play w/my dog, eat, etc. Tho I might Instagram or get glued 2. :)

MattNowak1
MattNowak1

@LisaSullivan Understood. I wish I could turn it off like that.

LisaSullivan
LisaSullivan

@mattnowak1 for me it's more than that. I only have so much bandwidth for tech. Once my day is done, I'm usually done tweeting, etc.

MattNowak1
MattNowak1

@LisaSullivan I know what you mean. Luckily I’m a night owl.

LisaSullivan
LisaSullivan

@mattnowak1 hmmm....I'll check it out. So much I want to do. So little time to do it all. :)

MattNowak1
MattNowak1

@LisaSullivan Nothing wrong with guilty pleasures. Branch was started by 2 of the Twitter founders. Learning curve, but great application.

LisaSullivan
LisaSullivan

@mattnowak1 hadn't heard of that one. I'm actually admin for 2 (or 3) soap opera forums (guilty pleasure) but it's been a while...

MattNowak1
MattNowak1

@LisaSullivan Have you heard of @branch ? Interesting forum medium. Maybe Fonville can create a Mini-Lisa for you. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@heitzke We have a client in auto aftermarket and we're ignoring forums

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